Compromise Without Compromising - Love and Work: Finding One’s Place in the Family Firm

Are you going to follow in your parents’ footsteps? Most children of family business owners hear this question from a very early age. For those who leave home to pursue higher education, the decision to return is doubly difficult. Should I take what I learned and use it to help grow the family business or do I go it alone and test my wings in a place where I know I will be evaluated purely on my skills? In this new case Professor Randel Carlock and Elizabeth Florent-Treacy introduce us to a recent INSEAD MBA graduate who faced this dilemma and found a way to do both.

by Randel Carlock, Elizabeth Florent-Treacy,Robin Cooper

The decision whether or not to enter the family business is rife with emotions: guilt, a sense of loyalty, fear of disappointing one’s family, desire to help one’s family, fear of entering a work world where one is evaluated purely on merit, a desire to go it alone. For most people, it is an all-or-nothing decision. But some people find a way to do both, as we see in this new case by Randel Carlock, The Berghmans Lhoist Chaired Professor of Entrepreneurial Leadership and Elizabeth Florent-Treacy, Research Project Manager.

The authors follow a 1998 INSEAD MBA graduate whose Greek family anxiously awaits her return home and her help running the growing family business. In a letter to her Family Firms professor, she reviews with mixed emotions her future prospects. Joining the family firm would allow her to bring new energy and ideas to the business, while giving her the opportunity to work in all kinds of activities, from production to marketing. It also might take some pressure off her aging parents and would bring her back to Greece, which would make them happy. Taking a job outside the family firm, on the other hand, would allow her to test herself outside the confines of the family and conquer feelings of self-doubt. And if mistakes are to be made, better they be at an outside firm than within the family business.

The authors follow her struggle over a three-year period, profiling her dilemmas and choices, her successes and missteps, and her eventual discovery that, although the two routes seem to go in very different directions, she can do both.

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